An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: Sarasota County, USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Almost half of Florida water bodies have algal blooms, and climate change is worsening the problem

Florida — home of armed iguana hunters, exploding toilets, and the nation's grandparents — just so happens to be the perfect petri dish for algal blooms. Because blue-green algae absorb energy from the sun and quickly grow in warm freshwater, the Sunshine State offers optimal conditions for the microorganisms called cyanobacteria to thrive.

Nearly all of Lake Okeechobee was covered in cyanobacteria in 2018, and the bacteria has returned this summer. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection tested 108 bodies of water statewide in the past month, and 44 percent had algal blooms. Eight sites were tested in Broward County in the past two weeks. Algal blooms were found in all but one.

"We have a problem," says Soren Rundquist, the director of spatial analysis for the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. "Florida's warmer climate is naturally conducive to algal blooms."

Rising seas could speed up loss of Florida mangroves, study finds

Four thousand years ago, rising seas decimated huge swaths of mangroves in Florida Bay.

Today, seas rising at a far greater rate, combined with increasing storms and drought, could lead to another catastrophic loss of mangroves that help keep the state from sliding into the sea, according to a new study published by the U.S. Geological Survey in the journal Nature Communications.

"This was surprising because mangroves are thought to be relatively resilient to sea level rise," said Miriam Jone, a USGS geologist and lead author for the study.

While previous studies revealed mangroves have disappeared amid rising seas in the past, this study is the first to show just how quickly that happened. 

USF's poop-powered generator could have worldwide impact

Flowers are blooming in an unconventional spot. It's a vertical hydroponic wall attached to a small generator.

"Which is basically making use of the nutrients and water recovered from the waste water that our system is treating," explained University of South Florida researcher Jorge Calabria.

The mini sewage system is called the NEWgenerator. It was developed by USF engineering professor Dr. Daniel Yeh and his research team.

“NEW" stands for nutrients, energy and water, which the generator recovers from human waste.

"This system works well,” said Yeh. “It allows us to get rid of our waste and actually recover clean waterfrom that.”

It also harnesses energy.

"Think of this as a renewable natural gas that's sitting in our waste and we're, for the most part, not mining that. So we can mine that for heating water, cooking, generating electricity, a number of uses," explained Yeh. 

Health Advisory Lifted for the Grand Canal on Siesta Key

The Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County has lifted a health advisory issued on July 10th, after Sarasota County Utilities had reported a spill of 36,000 gallons of untreated sewage that had entered the Grand Canal near 5200 Oakmont Place.

The advisory urged individuals not to come into contact with its water.

Water samples taken by Sarasota County Utilities indicate that bacteria levels in the Grand Canal have returned to acceptable levels. The health advisory signage will be removed.

At this time, there are no advisories in place on any Sarasota beach, or waterway.

When making beach day plans, be sure to check the latest reports on beach conditions. Click here for beach water testing results.

For more information:

  • Visit OurGulfEnvironment.net and click on "water monitoring" and then "bacterial testing" to check beach water testing results of area Gulf beaches.
  • Call 941-BEACHES (941-232-2437) or visit www.visitbeaches.org. Click on the same link to the mobile-friendly version of the beach conditions report.
  • Visit Sarasota County also provides extensive information about Sarasota, including its beaches. The website is www.visitsarasota.org.

DEP hosts 2019 resilient Florida: planning, policy and practice workshop

DEP, in conjunction with the University of South Florida, Florida Sea Grant and the Florida Climate Institute, hosted the inaugural 2019 Resilient Florida: Planning, Policy and Practice Workshop in Tampa this week. The two-day workshop, held Aug. 8-9, 2019, brought together nearly 200 attendees, including floodplain managers, community planners, climate change adaptation professionals, natural resource managers, park managers, academic representatives and other stakeholders to discuss tactics and data that will help Florida’s coastlines prepare for the effects of sea level rise and coastal flooding.

“We are making pivotal strides in resilience efforts, and it is an exciting time to be tackling resilience in Florida under Governor DeSantis’ leadership,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “I was thrilled to see so many resiliency experts from around the state and across the nation gathered together to learn from one another and build relationships that will create the essential collaboration to successfully address the state’s most challenging resiliency issues.”

Among some of the topics discussed by experts were infrastructure, living shorelines, land acquisitions related to climate change and coastal flooding. Officials from local governments and Florida universities shared how their communities have been involved in resiliency projects, discussing various success stories. Additionally, Florida State Parks staff talked about ways they’re working in parks to plan infrastructure projects and other coastal initiatives.

Nokomis Area Civic Association water symposium well attended

There was a full house at the Nokomis Community Center for Wednesday evening’s Water Symposium, sponsored by the Nokomis Area Civic Association.

John McCarthy, Executive Director of Historic Spanish Point, emceed the event that drew more than 100 attendees.

He began the evening with a short slide presentation documenting changing newspaper headlines from the 1920s, when hundreds of thousands of Gulf fish were caught and transported north, to today’s headlines on beach closures due to fecal bacteria, flesh eating bacteria incidents, and the area’s ongoing recovery after last year’s devastating red tide bloom.

“Something’s gotta give,” McCarthy said.

Sarasota and Manatee administrators discuss shared issues

With the population of Sarasota and Manatee counties now exceeding 800,000, officials in the adjoining jurisdictions find themselves talking more and more about the same issues, priorities and concerns.

The line on a map dividing the counties is becoming less distinct as more people reside in one county and work in the other — or have a Sarasota or Lakewood Ranch address that is not in the county they presumed it to be.

On Thursday, a capacity crowd of 250 attended “Regional Impact,” a forum at the Carlisle Inn sponsored by the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, an organization with members in both counties, and the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. They came to hear the guest speakers, the administrators of both county governments.

LWRBA president and CEO Dom DiMaio said both counties share a common interest: growth.

Speakers offer insight on improving Sarasota’s water quality

John McCarthy, executive director of Historic Spanish Point, started close to home Tuesday night when he illustrated the water-quality problem Sarasota faces, while addressing members of the Nokomis Area Civic Association.

“We’ve got a problem, would you agree? My wife doesn’t want to go swimming in the Gulf of Mexico,” McCarthy said, then added that he wasn’t sure if it was because of elevated counts of fecal bacteria or the recent reports of flesh-eating bacteria. “The fact that she doesn’t want to go shows me we have a problem.”

He followed that up with then-and-now headlines that illustrated the abundance of oysters in Sarasota Bay, as well as productive fishing trips.

“We were like a paradise; you never knew what you were going to pull out of the Gulf of Mexico, or out of the bay.”

He contrasted that with headlines of flesh-eating bacteria, no-swim advisories, blue green algae and sewer spills.

After McCarthy set the stage, Dr. Abbey Tyrna of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension and Sustainability; Steve Suau, principal of Progressive Water Resources; and Jon Thaxton, senior vice president for Community Investment at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, illustrated different aspects of the issue, as well as offering some solutions.

Venice considers fines for sewage spills

Frustrated after a contractor broke a 16-inch sewer pipe July 24 and caused a spill of 448,800 gallons of raw sewage, Venice City Council members will explore whether they can levy penalties after similar incidents in the future.

Venice Mayor John Holic, who is vacationing, said in emails to staff that he plans to bring it up for discussion when the council reconvenes Aug. 27.

The contractor cut into a 16-inch force main owned by Sarasota County, while digging on land that will become the subdivision Aria by Neal Signature Homes, just west of Jacaranda Boulevard and south of Laurel Road.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, no off-site stormwater systems or bodies of water were affected.

County spokesman Drew Winchester noted that since Sarasota County owns the sewer system and is the permit holder for the treatment plant, any fines levied by the DEP would be issued to the county. The county Risk Management team would then seek compensation from the developer or subcontractor.

Repair costs for the broken sewer line would be charged to the developer as well, he added.

“They were still tallying the cost and repairs,” Winchester said.

Since the spill occurred in the city limits, Holic wrote to both City Manager Ed Lavallee and City Attorney Kelly Fernandez, asking if the city had “penalty clauses for stupid things builders and developers might do.”

While contractors breached pipes during the recently completed downtown road and drainage reconstruction project, Holic noted those were poorly documented after being installed decades ago.

Researchers deploy new tech to explore depths of Gulf of Mexico

FIU marine scientist Kevin Boswell and a multi-institution research team will deploy experimental technology next week to explore the deep scattering layers of the ocean.

They are looking for information about animals in the Gulf of Mexico that make up the scattering layers — those that undergo daily vertical migrations of 100 to 1,000 meters. These animals represent the largest organized animal migration on the planet, yet little is known about them. What scientists do know is these animals are major players in the global carbon cycle, transporting carbon to deeper waters as they migrate. Some of them are part of a global discussion about whether they could have economic potential from a fisheries standpoint.

The research team will deploy an autonomous glider modified with sonar technology to collect up-close and personal data on the migrating animals in the water column. The slow-moving glider can stealthily travel through the water measuring where organisms are and how they are moving. An exciting addition to the glider is an ‘acoustic brain’ developed by the University of Washington team that processes acoustic data and sends data products home through a satellite connection. Having near-real-time acoustic data facilitates changes to the glider path when interesting acoustic features are observed. The team will simultaneously deploy a prototype camera system developed by the National Geographic Society called the Driftcam. Also an autonomous device, the Driftcam is designed to collect high-resolution images of species composition, distribution and even behavior that is not possible to capture with current technologies and methods. It too, is a minimally invasive device.

A new old way to combat toxic algae: float it up, then skim it off

In Florida, the Army Corps of Engineers is working to combat a growing environmental menace: blue-green algae. Nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from farms and subdivisions combines with warm summer weather to create massive blooms of algae in rivers and lakes that can be toxic.

In central Florida, Lake Okeechobee has been hit hard in recent years. In Moore Haven, on the western shore of the lake, Dan Levy was recently working on a solution. He was standing on a platform peering into a large water-filled tank. Inside, floating on top of the water was a thick mat of blue-green algae. "This is our treatment system," said Levy. "This is where we actually float the algae up and skim it across."

Levy is with AECOM, an engineering and infrastructure company that's working with the Army Corps of Engineers on the nagging and sometimes devastating problem. Algal blooms aren't just a nuisance. The algae, actually cyanobacteria, can produce toxins that threaten drinking water supplies, local economies and human health.

Longboat closer to moving forward on north end groin projects

Part of Longboat Key’s new beach management plan has received preliminary approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The state DEP published a Notice of Intent to issue permits for Longboat’s proposed north end groin projects. The notice lets interested parties know in advance so they can voice their disagreement.

“The Department of Environmental Protection gives notice of its intent to … authorize the construction of five additional permeable rock groins and the placement of sand along a 2,500-foot segment of the shoreline,” the public notice reads.

Anyone “whose substantial interests are affected by the Department's action may petition for an administrative hearing,” the letter continues. Said petition “may result in a modification of the permit or even a denial of the application.”

It's official! Mote declares record-breaking year for sea turtle nests in the Sarasota area

Sea turtle nesting season is not yet over, but Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program (STCRP) has already recorded a 38-year-record number of nests in the Sarasota area. STCRP monitors sea turtle nesting on the 35-mile stretch of beaches from Longboat Key through Venice.

As of August 4, Mote’s STCRP has documented a total of 5,063 nests across all sea turtle species – 4,888 loggerhead nests, 170 green turtle nests and five other nests. As female sea turtles nest every two to three years, many of them are expected to be returners from 2016, the previous total nest record, which had a total count of 4,588 nests. For the first time in the program’s history, there are at least two green sea turtle nests on every key/region in Mote’s area of monitoring. More records are included below.

In addition to record nesting numbers, STCRP has also been busy tagging a record number of nesting females. The team applies flipper tags and passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags (similar to a pet microchip) to nesting females, allowing researchers to estimate the number of individual females nesting on local beaches. As of July 31, STCRP tagged 468 turtles, compared to 2016's record of 451 turtles tagged. The team also logged a record number of turtle encounters, 719. For each encounter, the team records the individual, date, location and what the female is doing during the encounter.

Peace River water authority extending pipelines and raising rates

An agency that provides drinking water to Sarasota, Charlotte and Desoto counties and the city of North Port is proceeding with plans to extend its network of pipelines and construct a third reservoir to expand its supply.

The Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority recently finalized a $61.9 million budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, up from $59.6 million.

Its customers will pay 76 cents per 1,000 gallons, a rate increase of 2 cents.

For a typical household using 4,000 gallons monthly, the water bill will go up 8 cents, Executive Director Patrick Lehman said. The authority’s utility customers have already factored the increase into their rates, he noted.

The budget increase is largely due to costs associated with pipeline projects and a feasibility study for another reservoir that could provide sufficient water through 2030.

“We need to plan ahead,” Executive Director Patrick Lehman said. “You can’t wait until you need it (additional capacity).”

Registration is open for 2019 CHNEP Nature Festival

The Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership (CHNEP) is thrilled to present the 20th CHNEP Nature Festival!

CHNEP will celebrate the splendor of Central and Southwest Florida with environmental educators, live animal exhibits, engaging speakers, guided nature walks, games, and food trucks! Please join us on Saturday, November 16th, 2019, from 10 AM - 3 PM at Laishley Park in Punta Gorda.

This is a free family event and you do not need a ticket to attend. This registration form is for individuals and groups who wish to have a booth space, operate a food truck, be a vendor, or volunteer at the event. The Festival has become a showcase of our region's activities and it is a great opportunity to spread your message, demonstrate your accomplishments, and sell your creations. To participate in the festival, you are required to review and consent to these three documents:

This community festival is possible because of the generous support of its sponsors and volunteers. Please consider becoming a financial contributor at the Roseate Spoonbill, Alligator, or White-tailed Deer level. If interested, please submit this form to outreach@chnep.org by September 13th.

Visit the CHNEP Nature Festival webpage or follow CHNEP on Facebook.

Siesta residents eager to see changes after sewage spill

A July pump failure caused 36,000 gallons of raw sewage to be dumped in Grand Canal.

A spill that left 36,000 gallons of raw sewage in Siesta Key’s Grand Canal left residents questioning the effectiveness of the county’s pump stations and the use of emergency-alert systems.

At 4:30 p.m. July 9, the Lockwood Ridge Booster Station failed, which caused untreated wastewater to spill into the Grand Canal. Around 14,700 gallons were recovered, and lime was spread in the vicinity of the station to help mitigate the effects of the spill, near 5200 Oakmont Place.

The pump station, which opened in 2017 after the county was ordered to shut down its wastewater treatment facility on Siesta Key, utilizes a large transmission main to transport sewage to the mainland for treatment.

During high-flow conditions, as was the case July 9, a booster pump on the transmission main activates automatically to help keep the flow moving, county spokesman Drew Winchester said. However, the starter motor on the diesel engine that powers the pump failed. While the pump was being repaired, sewage in the Master Pump Station spilled into the canal, something residents of Siesta Isles say they never want to see happen again.

Judgment could come soon in Big Pass lawsuit

Representatives for the city and island residents questioned witnesses as the legal battle over a Lido shoreline project continues.

A judgment in a years-long lawsuit over the planned dredging of Big Pass for a Lido Key shoreline project could come as soon as August following testimony at a hearing in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court on Tuesday.

Attorneys for the Lido Key Residents Association, the Siesta Key Association and the city of Sarasota questioned witnesses over the course of five hours at the Judge Lynn N. Silvertooth Judicial Center. Tuesday’s hearing highlighted a key legal argument as the city and Lido residents attempt to persuade a judge to reject another challenge to the dredging from Siesta resident groups.

Siesta residents are seeking a writ of mandamus, an order that compels a governmental body to comply with a legal duty. Siesta residents have argued the city has failed to obtain necessary local approvals to proceed with the project. Ahead of the hearing, the city and the Lido residents group filed a joint memorandum of law arguing the Siesta residents had no grounds to request the writ and stating the city had already sufficiently approved the project.

Sarasota researchers conducting red tide/human health research

Congress recently approved $6.25 million to study how red tide algae blooms affect people's health. Multiple facilities in Sarasota will work together on the research.

Right now, physicians and scientists only know that red tide causes people to cough and makes their eyes water, but Mote Marine Laboratory, the Roskamp Institute and Sarasota Memorial Hospital are teaming up to learn more.

"For example, for my asthma patients, or my elderly patients with emphysema, COPD-- how are they affected by red tide?" asked Kirk Voelker, a lung doctor and clinical researcher at Sarasota Memorial.

"I know that I get a lot more people who come into my office during an outbreak of red tide with respiratory complaints."

The project is still being designed, but the plan is to test the blood of people who live or work on the coast and inland, both during red tide outbreaks and when the coast is clear.

They're looking for short term and possible long term effects of exposure.

"It's something that needs to be looked at because community physicians have theories that red tide may lead to some illnesses and that question needs to be answered," said Voelker.

Click here if you're interested in participating in the study.

These maps show where urban sprawl is making big storms more deadly

Jacksonville and Tampa Bay are the Florida regions most at risk from flooding.

Southern Louisiana seems to have dodged a bullet with Tropical Storm Barry. Although heavy rain caused widespread flooding after the storm hit the state Saturday, the region’s two biggest cities, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, were spared the worst.

But nationwide, the threat to lives and property from rain-triggered storm flooding is escalating, with global warming spawning larger, apparently slower-moving storms, and asphalt and concrete covering permeable open ground that would have soaked up rain as cities expand.

Flooding has always posed the main danger when tropical storms come ashore, and historically, the main killer has been storm surge — a sudden rise in sea level caused by low atmospheric pressure and winds blowing onshore. But in the past three years, 75% of the more than 160 deaths from hurricanes making landfall along the US Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard have been due to flooding from heavy rain rather than surging seas, according to statistics from the National Hurricane Center.

As seas rise, Florida will likely lose more coastal property value than any other state

Long before rising seas permanently swamp homes, millions of Americans living in coastal communities will likely face more frequent and disruptive high-tide flooding — and the effects will ripple through the local economy.

As the flooding increases over time, coastal residents will be forced to make difficult and costly choices. And if home values decline, an eroding property tax base would jeopardize funding for local services and infrastructure, such as roads, schools, and police and fire departments.

Shana Udvardy, climate resilience analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said homeowners could find themselves with mortgages that exceed the value of their homes, which will be increasingly difficult to insure.

Udvardy believes some homeowners will abandon their properties as they did during the 2008 financial crisis. Banks would then foreclose on those properties. And banks holding risky mortgages on devalued properties — you remember the Great Recession, right?

Researchers working on spray that could help combat red tide

The dead fish, dolphins and the nasty smell of murky water all came with the red tide that plagued Florida’s Gulf coast last summer.

Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota is working to make a spray they believe could reduce the toxins red tide releases.

While researchers are still working on a finding a compound that works, when they do, they say the results could be a game changer.

So far in 2019, there hasn’t been too much to worry about, but scientists said there’s always a chance red tide will make a comeback.

Sandy soil and rising seas spell septic tank disaster in Florida

Communities across Florida are already grappling with aging septic tanks, which leak into groundwater and are considered a leading cause of toxic algae blooms. As sea level rise is expected to worsen that situation, the state and cities are beginning to tackle the expensive task of converting septic systems to sewer or newer septic technologies.

It’s no small challenge. Floridians are estimated to be using 2.6 million septic systems, most of them the conventional variety with two parts: a tank in the ground close to the home and a “drainfield.”

A quick septic 101: When someone flushes a toilet or rinses off a plate, the wastewater is pumped into the tank, where “solids” settle to the bottom, forming “sewage sludge,” while oil and grease float to the top, forming “scum.” When septic systems get pumped, it’s to remove built-up sludge and residual scum.

Blue-green algae making its way around Tampa Bay again

Florida is perfect for summer activities by the water, however, the ongoing problem of blue-green algae has given some people pause about going to the beach.

The foul-smelling and toxic algae, officially called Lyngbya, has popped up in Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota and even Hillsborough counties in the last month according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Last year, many bodies of water became slick with from blue-green algae, along with a significant, 14-month-long red tide algae bloom that plagued all three Florida coasts at one point.

A year later, and with a hand-picked blue-green algae task force in place under Gov. Ron DeSantis, some blue-green algae may still be feeding off of the nutrients left behind.